LOVE, what a blast! (or maybe not?)

The following article has been published by Repubblica (Italian version HERE)

How sexy is the ability to make people laugh? To find out, our "correspondent" participated in a scientific speed date. Themed: irony. She came out with the suspicion that courtship is rather a social skill. And that there's not much to laugh about.

The room is lined with yellow cloth, has no windows, looks like a playroom. It relaxes me. I'm on the first floor of  Science Gallery Dublin, where a mischievous experiment is about to begin: a scientific speed date. That is an evening for singles explicitly aimed at the trailer. But scientific, precisely. I would like to say that I have never before participated in a singles' evening in my life: not that I see anything wrong with it, it's just that on these issues I'm shy. So the scientific pretext for me is doubly interesting: for science, and for something embarrassing that I will do tonight and maybe never again. I wonder if this is also the case for the forty people leaning against the yellow wall, waiting for the animator, also dressed in yellow, to tell us what we should do.

The theme of the speed date is irony, and the scientific touch is here, how seductive is the ability to make people laugh? We are all guinea pigs and all spectators. We all visited the exhibition that the Science Gallery produced on the theme of INTIMACY: we do not talk about sex, or at least not in a conventional way, but about ways of being close and how they change between cultures and with technology. To say, we touched the small sculptures obtained by copying in three dimensions the movement of two tongues that kiss each other, stroked humanoids and robot cats for single people, and appreciated (so to speak) a hollow dildo, in which you can put the ashes of the loved one after death to continue to feel close to her. We've all seen, not without a fuss, the photos of the sweet faces of the Islamic fighters ready to commit suicide while they hug each other, and we've all stuck a sticker on ourselves with the words "Please, touch" on the part of the body that we want (or doesn't bother us too much) to be touched by a stranger. I stuck it on my backpack, but away from the zipper, you never know.

The animator is Laura Allcorn: she is a humorist and researcher and founded the Institute for Comedic Inquiry. The description of the evening explains that "decades of scientific research have shown that sharing a sense of humour makes love relationships more stable". So, it's the subtext, why not directly select the possible partners on the basis of a common laugh? The evening begins and I am immediately the muson of the group. I should take a sheet of paper with a list of comedy films, comedians and comedy television series and indicate my favorites, but of more than fifty indicated I only know two or three. There's a French guy with the same difficulty as me and the animator, benevolent, explains that it doesn't matter, we can move on to the next phase as long as we indicate the type of humour that is most congenial to us in a table that lists seven. All right. I choose "observational" and "puns" (even if I hesitate for a long time on "black humor" and "taste for the absurd"). I carefully avoid the "body humor", literally described as those who enjoy burp competitions (in the group almost only young males will end up), and the "physical humor", of those who laugh from the slide on the banana peel. I also avoid "satirical humor", because I find the description irritating.

So I end up in the group of those who love to chat, and we are almost all women. But there's a new problem: I arrived last, and we're odd. That is: I am odd. I try to complain in English: "I am odd!". And there's a lot of laughter. Because, I understand it a second later, "odd" in English doesn't just mean "not even", and I just said, "I'm weird!". The decades of scientific research cited to make sense of this evening speak of voluntary irony, not gaffes. They also say quite unambiguously that while heterosexual women like men who can make them laugh, heterosexual men like women who laugh at their jokes. For some scientists this cannot be the result of chance, but it must depend on a long coevolution between males and females of our species, decided by means of a sexual selection that would have produced the complex human character that we call sense of humor. And it is true that there are several scientific researches that have investigated it like any other human character, and have asked themselves "why do we laugh? And do we all laugh in the same way?". For example, there is a researcher from Kansas who conducted experiments on his students, noting that the funny guys were hooking up much more than the others, and that anyway if in a couple the two were laughing at the same things, the couple lasted longer.

But beware: unlike what they could have done more than intelligence, it is about personality, creativity, open-mindedness and, more generally, social skills. And here I am, for having misused the word "odd" and for having given bad proof of sociality, I am moved from the "observational" in the group of those who have a "taste for the absurd". In this speed date we are invited to play in pairs and the games depend on the group. For example, we absurdians have to list a series of words starting from the definition: a type of hygiene product (I write "shampoo"), a type of crime ("homicide-suicide"), a type of exercise ("grammar"), an animal ("rhinoceros") and so on. Then these words are randomly inserted into a little story: "Hi, my name is Silvia but you can call me shampoo. My hobby is murder-suicide but I also do a lot of grammar. I love eating rhinos... ”. And in short you will have understood. Funny, but not to be shagged. Above all, I ended up in a couple with a blonde who will be half my age and who tells me to introduce himself: "I have the most common name in Ireland (imagine Peter O' Toole, ed) and like a good Irish I drink a lot of beer. In the meantime, behind us, a couple of those with physical humour play with strange tambourines and another one slips into a yellow blanket with two holes for the head and everyone laughs a lot.

I get the feeling that it's not an evening for me, at least in terms of towing. While for science I'm still curious: let's see if the two of them will end up going out of here together with a tambourine. The first research on "irony and seduction" dates back to the Nineties, when a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland started comparing marriage announcements to discover that women were looking for "a partner who makes me laugh" twice as many times as they indicated that they themselves had a sense of irony. It has also been seen that women tend to laugh more than men, especially if the one who is talking is a man they consider attractive, and that vice versa a woman who a man considers only attractive becomes irresistible when he laughs. These observations are confirmed several times and in several ways. And reinforced by the one, signed by the evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller in 2006, for which the female preference would be reinforced during ovulation, that is, at the time of maximum fertility, when it can be assumed that women, like their companions in the animal kingdom, develop more "nose" for good breeding partners. There are also those who point out that, on the contrary, in the long term relationships, the best glue of the couple is the feminine humour.

In reality, all this risks being questionable, and there are also experiments such as those that (since one in 2005, signed Stanford University) have investigated what happens in the brain of those who listen to jokes, who have noticed some difference between the sexes but always difficult to interpret. Someone then has the doubt that the sexual selection has little to do with it, and that the irony is similar to certain signals that the animals exchange during the game: the smile, and laughter would be a message of peace and harmony, which then take on an extra meaning when the game is a game of seduction.

                                                                                                                                                                        Silvia Bencivelli